The God who speaks - Isaiah 55:1-13

This is a sermon by Melvin Tinker from the evening service on 5th October 2003.

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Let me begin by telling you about the notorious Mexican outlaw Jose Rivera who was responsible for robbing banks and businesses in several small towns around Texas. Eventually the townsfolk became sick of this and hired a Ranger to track him down which he eventually did. He found Jose in a run down cantina south of the Mexican border. As he walked through the swing doors the tall Ranger saw a young man propped up against the bar and a rather staunch Mexican with his hands folded over his ample stomach leaning back in a chair, hat covering his eyes. So he went up to the young man and told him about his mission to bring back Jose Rivera dead or alive. ‘Can you help me find him?’ he asked. The young man pointed to the snoozing Mexican and said, ‘Si senior, that’s Jose Rivera.’ The Ranger ambled over to the bandit, tapped him on the shoulder and asked: ‘Are you Jose Rivera?’ The man mumbled ‘ No speak English.’ So the Ranger beckoned the young man who at least had some smattering of English to communicate on his behalf. Well the ensuing conversation was somewhat tedious. The Ranger would speak in English which would be translated by the young man with some difficulty into Spanish. Jose Rivera would speak in Spanish which would then be translated into English and on and on this went. Eventually, the Ranger became exasperated and told the young man to warn Rivera that he had two choices. Either let him know where the loot was hidden, in which case he would walk away a free man or he would be shot dead on the spot. The ultimatum was duly translated. Then Jose Rivera pulled himself together and said to the young man in Spanish, ‘Tell him to go out of the bar, turn right, go about a mile down the road, and he will see a well. Near the well he will see a very tall tree. Beside the trunk of the tree is a large stone. He will need help removing it. Under the stone is a pit in the ground. If he carefully uncovers it he will discover the jewellery and most of the money. Tell him!’ Somewhat nonplussed, the young man turned to the Ranger, opened his mouth, paused, opened his mouth again, paused and then stammered, ‘Jose says.... Jose says..... Jose says- Go ahead and shoot’!

Now as any counsellor will tell you most problems in relationships come down to a failure to communicate. ‘He never listens to me’; ‘She doesn’t understand me’; ‘It’s as if we are from totally different planets, I’m from Mars she is from Venus , the mother-in-law is from Pluto.’ Effective communication is vital to fostering good relationships. Now if that is the case at the human level how much more so is it at the divine level, between God and people. If there is a God, how do we know? If there is a God, how can we know him? Now for both questions to be answered positively some sort of communication has to take place and the initiative has to come from God’s side. If he is there he must make himself known, he must tell us what he is like. The word used to describe this activity of ‘making known’ is revelation. And how that is achieved is given for us in that marvellous reading from Isaiah 55. Here we are told 3 things: the need for revelation, the nature of revelation and the purpose of revelation.

First of all, the need for revelation. It was the philosopher Wittgenstein who said that, ‘The meaning of the world is to be found outside the world.’ That is, if we want to know what the purpose of life is, then we cannot work out the answer simply by looking at the world from the inside. At most all we can find out is how things work-mechanism, not why we are here- meaning. You see at the beginning of the 21st century many people are like the two British soldiers who found themselves lost in the deserts of Iraq. They eventually came across a two star American General in his jeep. As they approached him they didn’t even bother to salute and simply blurted out ‘ Excuse me mate can you tell us where we are?’ And the General taking umbrage at their causal attitude sternly replied, ‘Don’t you know who I am?’ And so one of the soldiers turned to the other and said, ‘Now we are in real trouble, we don’t know where we are and he doesn’t know who he is!’ And that is the sad situation of many of our contemporaries today in our schools, in our universities, in our factories. We don’t know where we are as a race or where we are heading and neither do we know who we are and why we are here, so we just live for today and who cares about tomorrow. And that is how we will remain unless there is some communication from the outside, from the One who has made us.

But verses 8-9 tell us that there is a problem: ‘For my thoughts are not your thoughts, neither are your ways my ways," declares the LORD. "As the heavens are higher than the earth, so are my ways higher than your ways and my thoughts than your thoughts.’ In other words, there is a great gulf fixed between God’s mind and ours and the way he operates and the way we act. And that stands to reason. If God is infinite, that is beyond measure, how can we who are finite, bound, possibly enter his mind? We can’t. In fact we can’t read each others thoughts although we try. We sometimes attempt to work out what someone is thinking by reading their facial expressions, the look in their eyes, the body language. But it is a very risky business, fraught with uncertainty. Let’s try it. Does anyone know what I am thinking now? Even my wife Heather doesn’t and she has an uncanny knack of being able to read my mind ! I was thinking about the colour of my socks. Now you know, because I have decided to tell you. Well, we can’t read God’s body language because God is Spirit, we can’t second guess him because he in infinite, and even if we could we would probably get it wrong because he is holy and we are twisted. So what is the answer? How is the communication gap overcome? Well, that brings us to the nature of revelation.

Just think for a moment of the various means we use to communicate something about ourselves, what are our likes, our dislikes, our hopes, our joys. Sometimes these things are revealed by what we do. If a person has Manchester United posters in his or her room, attends their matches and buys their gear, it would be fair to conclude that this person likes sport, more specifically football and more specifically still, Man United. If someone spends time painting on canvas and I look at their paintings I will be able to tell whether the person is sensitive, creative, what are their hopes and values as expressed through that painting. And if there is a Creator God then it would not be unreasonable to expect him to do the same. That is an indirect inference from v10 ‘As the rain and the snow come down from heaven, and do not return to it without watering the earth and making it bud and flourish, so that it yields seed for the sower and bread for the eater, so is my word that goes out from my mouth:’ What does that tell us? Well that by looking at nature we can deduce that God is an orderly being- everything comes at the right time. The rain and snow have properties which enable life on earth to be sustained and so he is a purposeful being, not fitful or capricious, acting on whim. It tells us that he is a caring God too- seed for the sower is yielded so that there will be bread for the eater. That is a legitimate inference. In fact the apostle Paul makes precisely the same point in Acts 14: 17, when says to his pagan audience ‘ Yet he (God) has not left himself without testimony: He has shown kindness by giving you rain from heaven and crops in their seasons; he provides you with plenty of food and fills your hearts with joy." Anybody can see that. you don’t have to be a Christian to work that out. As GK Chesterton put it, ‘If my children wake up on Christmas morning and have someone to thank for putting candy in their stocking, have I no one to thank for putting two feet in mine?’ In other words the gift- like nature of life is meant to lead us on to recognise the Giver of life.

But this type of revelation, often called ‘general revelation’, is limited. It may call out to us that there is a God and that he is rational, transcendent and creative. It may also stir within us a sense that we are accountable to him. But it doesn’t get us very far with regards to knowing him and finding out what he want from us. Well, for us to know those things then God has to do something we do everyday and it is one of the most astounding and distinguishing features of what it means to be a person- he ‘speaks.’ You see, his works take us only so far, we also need to hear his words: v11 ‘so is my word that goes out from my mouth.’

This is special revelation as it is specially given to certain people at certain times. Now the Bible makes it plain that this is the primary way God has chosen to relate to us, as we relate to each other, by words. The first book in the Bible -Genesis begins: ‘In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth- the Spirit of God was hovering over the waters and God said...let there be and there was’ Echoing this the apostle John in his introduction to his Gospel says: ‘ In the beginning was the Word., the Word was with God, the Word was God.’ The expression , ‘Thus says the LORD’ occurs over 3,000 times in the OT. And when God achieved the greatest communication coup ever, bridging the gap by becoming one of us in Jesus Christ, we are told ‘The Word became flesh and dwelt amongst us.’ Its all about the Word, you see, the speaking God.

Now this goes right against our culture doesn’t it? And is contrary to much pagan religion in fact. We live in the age of the visual. We say don’t we? ‘A picture is worth a thousand words.’ That ‘seeing is believing.’ Well there is only once in history where the sight and sound of God were united-in Jesus Christ, so that as we look at him we see the works and words of God in perfect harmony. But just think for a moment of the difference between seeing and listening and you can understand why God stresses the listening.

First of all, sight is largely intentional whereas hearing is involuntary. Take sight- we open our eyes, but we can shut them too. We can turn our heads or turn them away. In other words we are the one’s in control. Not so with sound. It comes to us and we receive it immediately. We are the one’s addressed whether we like it or not. In other words the speaker is mainly in control, not the listener. In the second place sight is mainly to do with appearance whereas words are to do with meaning. For example you are in a supermarket and you see a man hammering away at the chest of another man on the floor. What do you do? Well, he looks like an attacker, so you call the police. But then you realise you should have called the ambulance because the man explains that the fellow lying on the floor has had a seizure and he is trying to revive him- that is, words give the correct meaning to actions. So by words God addresses us, he is the centre of our horizons , he gives meaning to life, not us. In others words-he is God and will be God. He speaks and it is our duty to listen.

But where does he speak? Where can we hear his voice? Well, where that voice has been recorded of course- the Bible. In history God has spoken to particular people and through particular people. And those words have come in the context of God acting in the world. And through these words and actions God has gradually built up for us a full picture of himself, what he is like, and how we are to relate to him. And the record of that self-revelation is contained between these covers. I am sure that you have seen those jig saw puzzles of a face which when you like closely you discover that each piece is a picture in itself. Well, as we turn to the Bible what we find in the OT is just that, the jig saw is slowly being pieced together until eventually we see the full face of God in Jesus and as we look at his life and listen to his words, all the little pictures of God in the OT are found there too- God as shepherd, God as King, God as judge, God as creator - Jesus is the full picture, a composite of all these other little pictures.

But sometimes people will say, I don’t worship the Bible, the written word, I worship Jesus the living word. I want to know a person not a proposition. I don’t want an exposition I want an experience. But that is a false option. How can you know Jesus other than by learning about him here? And isn’t it the case that the words of a person reflect what the person is like. So if someone makes promises and keeps them then we know they are a reliable person. If they issue warnings and consequences, we know they are a moral person. If they offer words of comfort and love we know they are a caring person. That is the God of the Bible isn't it? And we must also remember that words aren’t just about information, they are about action. If I say to my wife, ‘I love you’. I am not just imparting some interesting tit bit of information about the state of my glands. I am actually fostering love, showing care, building her up, strengthening the relationship- through words, not only words of course, but words re a vital part. Well that is what God does through this amazing book, which is why we call it: ‘ The Word of God.’ This is where I hear God’s voice clearly, this is where I discover his will, learn his ways, get to know his person, receive his comfort. Where else is there to turn?

And don’t make the mistake of thinking this is just an intellectual thing for this is where God the Holy Spirit comes in, working not apart from His Word but through his Word. As my words are carried on my breath to you, so God’s words are carried on the breath of his Spirit to us, enabling us to understand and respond to what God has said. Have you ever wondered why some people do hear God’s voice in the Bible and others don’t.? The Bible tells us- because, it says, we are by nature spiritually deaf and blind. So how does God overcome that impediment in order to communicate? Maybe you have heard the story of Helen Keller a woman who was born blind and deaf. How does someone like that who has never heard words communicate? Let me tell you what happened. One day her teacher began to spell words on Helen’s hands, tracing the letters with her finger. Helen learnt to imitate the movements which spelt out the words, but failed to understand what the movements were. One day her teacher spelled the word w-a-t-e-r into one of Helen’s hands as she held the other hand under a spout of running water and the mystery of language was revealed. Helen later wrote: ‘I knew then that water meant the wonderful cool something that was flowing over my hand. The living word awakened my soul, gave it light, hope, joy, set free.’ You see Helen’s teacher was like the Holy Spirit who effectively ministered the word to Helen to bring her understanding. That is what he does with us as he takes this Word and applies it to our lives. Do you see? But why? Why does God speak?

That brings us to the purpose of revelation- v11 ‘So is my word that goes out from my mouth: It will not return to me empty, but will accomplish what I desire and achieve the purpose for which I sent it.’

Now what is that ‘purpose’? Well, the context of the passage makes it plain why God communicates to us, what he seeks to achieve when he speaks. It is something which goes beyond imparting information, it is to bring about a transformation, in fact the Bible calls it salvation- a rescue whereby we are restored to a personal relationship with God. In fact what we have here in is 55 is a prototype of the Gospel- the Good News of Jesus. Just think about it.

You see here God’s people, Israel, has turned away from him and they are suffering in Exile as a result and God wants to rescue them from that judgement they have brought upon themselves and that is what he is promising. But it is conditional, they have to respond.

First there is a call to turn- v 6 ‘Seek the LORD while he may be found; call on him while he is near. Let the wicked forsake his way and the evil man his thoughts.’ God is calling people to call on him. To stop wandering off to self-destruction. And get back in touch. In short -repent.

Secondly there is a call to trust - ‘ Let him turn to the LORD, and he will have mercy on him, and to our God, for he will freely pardon.’ God is offering mercy, forgiveness, a fresh start with the slate wiped clean. And he is calling people like you and me to take him at his word and discover it personally for ourselves. In short- believe.

And the result? v 12- transformation ‘ You will go out in joy and be led forth in peace; the mountains and hills will burst into song before you, and all the trees of the field will clap their hands. Instead of the thornbush will grow the pine tree, and instead of briers the myrtle will grow. for an everlasting sign, which will not be destroyed."

This is a whole new way of life that God is offering us. Instead of being lost wondering aimlessly in the in the dry wilderness of materialism and the ‘here today gone tomorrow’ world of pleasure, God offers us a relationship through his Son which is bursting with life and will last for ever. The Bible is a book about God’s rescue that is why we read it. In short- be saved.

Now you are here tonight and in your heart you know you are unsettled and searching. You want to hear God speak to you. In fact that is precisely what he has been doing as we have been unpacking this book tonight. ‘Seek the Lord while he may be found, call upon him while he is near.’ He is near you tonight, he is pleading with you to get to know him by committing your life to his Son Jesus who died and rose again for you. Have you done that? Then do it.

1But you may be here as a professing Christian and if the truth be known you too are longing for a deeper spiritual reality, but you have been neglecting the source-God’s word. To you too he says in v 3 ‘Give ear and come to me, hear me, that your soul may live.’ Get back to this word, day by day, get to that home group and study group, that CU meeting, read Christian books which will help you- and as you come to the living waters you will find your soul refreshed. For remember, God is as good as is Word.

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